Ask most people what they do and they will define themselves by their job. Whilst I do try to avoid this – I am a music fan and a visual media artist – sometimes it is fun to describe what I do now and have done in the past. This week I am a TEFL teacher, teaching some Chilean students who are in the UK for a programme including intensive English, adventurous outdoor activities and embedding in a school. In introducing myself to my class, I then reveal that last week and next week I am and will be an engineering lecturer and a computing lecturer. After that I delve into my past.

My working life has been varied, doing various technical jobs and businesses, baking cakes, getting involved in photography and filmmaking and temp jobs ranging from working on the docks and on the bins to test engineering and software testing. When asked how I can do all of these things, I usually answer that I am an engineer, I can do many things.

After leaving school at eighteen, I worked in a small supermarket for a few months, then I went to university, dropping out at the end of the second year. Whilst there, I worked on the technical crew, setting up for discos, live gigs and other events. I DJd, I did sound engineering and lights. After leaving uni, I found a job with British Telecommunications as a telecommunications technician. The following year I joined the Territorial Army as an infantryman. I drifted out of the TA just under four years later and decided to leave BT to further my education. At polytechnic I studied engineering with French, with one year studying for the French equivalent of the HND in France. I worked on the crew at the poly and also drove the late night minibus and did door security. I rejoined the TA in my final year, this time as a telecommunications technician.

Unluckily for me, the bottom dropped out of the job market the year I graduated, so, as a mature student, I wasn’t deemed suitable for graduate trainee jobs. I temped for a while, order picking, washing dishes, serving food and doing training for the TA. After a year of this, I was accepted on a postgraduate course studying telecoms. Before I started that, I spent the summer working as a train driver on the Volks Electric Railway in Brighton. Whilst doing my postgrad, I did volunteer work for the student counselling service. After finishing the course, I was again looking for work and got temporary work in a factory up until Christmas. They took me on a second time when orders increased and I did that, alongside the TA, for several months. It was quite soul destroying but the money was reasonably good.

One of the friends I had made, an undergrad I had shared a house with when I was a postgrad, suggested we go into business together, writing software using MS Access and MS Excel for small businesses. We expanded into building PCs, sorting out peoples’ IT problems and training people how to use their new computers. We did this for about eighteen months but this didn’t take off well enough as neither of us were good sales people, he had turned into a successful professional gambler and I was concentrating on my TA career. I moved and ended up going back to where I had done my postgrad. After temping, including working on the bins, I was offered a regular army post within my regiment. I did that for eighteen months and, after leaving that, I then covered one of the operational duties that my regiment had to cover for just over three months.

I had moved again, as my partner at the time had found herself a job on the south coast, so I joined her. We bought a house together and I found work as a network technician. Sadly, the following year, we split up, remaining friends though and staying in the same house. I decide that I would have another crack at being self-employed, this time as renewable energy consultant engineer. Again, my lack of sales experience showed, along with trying to cover too many different areas of renewables and general environmental ideas. After I started that, I did do some temping and then found a job teaching engineering part-time. Several years on and the teaching and the TA took over.

At the end of the 00s I volunteered, along with several others, to go to Kosovo, however, the MoD decided to scale back the unit there so we were offered a tour in Afghanistan instead. I was mobilised for that and spent several months training in Germany and the UK before flying out to Helmand Province for six months. My experience and knowledge of telecoms and managing systems was put into practice in an important environment. On my return, my plans to do training to become an adventurous training instructor were shelved as the government had decided that they would no longer pay the TA. I went back to the lecturing but left at the end of that year.

As I started to look for work back in telecoms, my ex-partner suggested we set up a vegan baking business together. I agreed immediately and we started selling cakes on a market stall. After the first time we did this, I visited my former colleagues at the college to let them know what I was doing and to give them some cakes that we had left over. I was asked to start teaching again as one had gone long-term sick, so I did. The next few years I juggled baking, opening a vegan food shop, writing cookbooks, teaching engineering, public services and computing, the Army Reserve (as the TA had become) and my new interest of photographing live events.

Eventually it all changed again. I became too old for the Reserves and, on looking at our accounts, we realised that we were not making enough money with the cake business. I hoped to pick up some slack from teaching more hours, instead, my hours were cut and, despite picking up some IT teaching, I decided to leave. Having to clear debts, I sold my house (I had bought out my ex a few years before) and put some of the money left into training as a TEFL teacher, in California. After returning from that, I didn’t look for work immediately as I had to schedule a couple of operations. Over the summer, I found work as a TEFL teacher with the company I still work for on and off. After that I started work as an engineering lecturer again on a temporary contract.

After several months I was offered a permanent contract teaching engineering and took it. A short while later, I realised that that was a mistake and resigned. I had got involved with a film director and started working with her to produce films. We eventually found that we couldn’t work together and we severed connections. I picked up other short contracts, either teaching engineering or TEFL work. I also looked into selling photos and doing film work with a niece. Then Covid hit. For the first time in years I was completely unemployed. I spent the time studying and fitness training. Eventually, I was offered a temp contract in the southwest, which could have turned permanent but personal issues required me to be back in Sussex.

Over last summer, the TEFL company had one centre open and I was headhunted by the centre director to become Director of Studies. That lasted four weeks and I signed on again before getting my current contracts.

What does the future hold? This summer I shall be back teaching English for a few weeks and then taking a holiday that has been postponed twice. What I do after that will depend on how successful I am in selling my photos and if I can get another income stream from online teaching or training. Watch this space.